Papua New Guinea government to review fisheries policies


Papua New Guinea’s government is to review existing fishing policies to boost downstream processing and expand the market. Minister Manasseh Makiba says the review also follows industry concerns about the Vessel Day Scheme and work permits for foreign crews.

Tuna processing plant. Credit: RD Tuna

Papua New Guinea’s fisheries industry is the latest sector to come under the scrutiny of the new Marape-Davis Government. The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, Manasseh Makiba, announced a review of existing policies at the biennial Pacific Tuna Forum in Port Moresby in September.

To be led by the Fisheries Minister Dr Lino Tom, the review will look at what the industry says are its biggest challenges: expanding the market and PNG’s stringent work permit and visa requirements affecting foreign crews on PNG-flagged vessels.

This latter issue has led to a significant number of PNG-flagged vessels reflagging to other Nauru Agreement (PNA) member countries.

Manasseh Makiba

‘We need to look at how we treat fishing crews when it comes to work permits and visas, especially those from neighbouring Pacific Island countries,’ said Makiba in his address.

The review will also look at the 2017 Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), which saw the domestic tuna processing and fishing industry paying the same fee of US$10,500 (K35,713) as distant water fishing nations (although they were given refunds if they landed their fish in PNG).

Under the scheme, the country’s six tuna processors get a rebate of US$400 (K1,360) for every metric tonne of tuna produced.

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Former Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, said at the time 80 per cent of fish caught in PNG waters was processed in other countries, even though the government had given ‘heavily discounted’ fishing licences to boost the local processing industry. At the time, the industry warned the VDS scheme may force them to close down their operations.

But Chey Scovell, CEO of the Manufacturers Council of PNG, says the change in the subsidy regime has sharply stimulated fish processing, and processing is ‘now between two and three times’ the previous level, with some companies doing ‘almost 24-hour production’.


Pacific nations struggle with foreign tuna fishing. Credit: ABC

PNG Fishing Industry Association President, Sylvester Pokajam, told the Pacific Tuna Forum that PNG fishing businesses are unable to get loans to buy fishing vessel because fishing is considered a high-risk business.

He has appealed to financial institutions such as Nasfund and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to help Papua New Guineans seeking loans to buy fishing vessels.

‘More than 12 to 15 per cent of the world’s tuna catch is found in the waters of Pacific Islands countries and PNG is a major contributor.

‘However, most of us do not own fishing vessels, compared with countries such as the Solomon Islands,’ he said.

Pokajam said the country needed to consider addressing the fishing agenda before considering processing because most PNG-flagged vessels fishing in PNG archipelagic waters are foreign-owned.

Sustainable harvesting

NZ Fisheries Management Consultant Les Clarke told the Forum that global retailers and consumers are concerned about sustainable harvesting; they are equally concerned about the working conditions of fishers and processing plant workers.

He warned that fixing the issue of exploitation and mistreatment of workers would be expensive.

‘The necessary changes in crew and hiring practices in some parts of our industry will be neither easy nor cost-free.’

He also said ocean pollution—particularly that caused by plastics—has become, with good reason, ‘a hot-button issue’.

‘This has implications at both ends of the supply chain; for instance, for the management (or non-management) of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) at the fishing end, and the packaging of products at the retail end.’

Fish stocks and revenues

Tuna stocks in the Pacific region are in good health and have not been overfished, Kora Nou, the President of the Pacific Islands News Association, reported from the Pacific Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu in August.

He said the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to the Pacific Forum reported license and excess fees surpassed US$500 million (K1.6 billion) in 2018, providing around 22,500 jobs in 2017, up from 7,000 in 2013.

PNG earned about US$128 million (K425.5 million), almost US$129 million (K428.9m), in license fees from tuna. This represented 4.9 per cent of the government’s total revenue.

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